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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   John McDougall MD | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

Correcting the American Heart Association on Outdated Food Combining Theories

The American Heart Association recently published a letter from John McDougall MD

Volume 105, Number 25; June 25, 2002 page 197

Plant Foods Have a Complete Amino Acid Composition

The American Heart Association (AHA) Science Advisory, “Dietary Protein and Weight Reduction: A Statement for Health-care Professionals From the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association,” contains often quoted, but incorrect, infor-mation about the adequacy of amino acids found in plant foods.1 This report states, “Although plant proteins form a large part of the human diet, most are deficient in 1 or more essential amino acids and are therefore regarded as incomplete proteins.”

William Rose and his colleagues completed research by the spring of 1952 that determined the human requirements for the 8 essential amino acids.2 They set as the “minimum amino acid requirement” the largest amount required by any single subject and then they doubled these values to make the “recommended amino acid requirement,” which was also considered a “definitely safe intake.” By calculating the amount of each essential amino acid provided by unprocessed complex carbohydrates (starches and vegetables)3 and comparing these values with those determined by Rose,1 the results show that any single one or combination of these plant foods provides amino acid intakes in excess of the recom-mended requirements. Therefore, a careful look at the founding scientific research and some simple math prove it is
impossible to design an amino acid– deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans. Furthermore, mixing foods to make a complementary amino acid composition is unnecessary.4

The reason it is important to correct this misinformation is that many people are afraid to follow healthful, pure vegetarian diets—they worry about “incomplete proteins” from plant sources. A vegetarian diet based on any single one or combination of these unprocessed starches (eg, rice, corn, potatoes, beans), with the addition of vegetables and fruits, supplies all the protein, amino acids, essential fats, minerals, and vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) necessary for excellent health. To wrongly suggest that people need to eat animal protein for nutrients will encourage them to add foods that are known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many forms of cancer, to name just a few common problems.5

John McDougall, MD
The McDougall Program
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
drmcdougall@drmcdougall.com

1. St Jeor S, Howard B, Prewitt E. Dietary protein and weight reduction: a statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001;104:1869 –1874.
2. Rose W. The amino acid requirement of adult man. Nutr Abst Rev. 1957;27:631– 647.
3. Pennington J. Bowes’ & Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. 17th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 1998.
4. M. Irwin, Hegsted D. A conspectus of research on protein requirements of man. J Nutr. 1971;101:385– 428.
5. Weisburger J. Eat to live, not live to eat. Nutrition. 2000;16:767–773.


 



AHA Published Response

We thank Dr McDougall for the thoughtful comments about the amino acid composition of plant foods. The American Heart Association (AHA) believes that vegetarian diets can be healthy, and we do not suggest that people need to eat animal protein exclusively for nutrients. You are correct that the reference to plant protein as being regarded as incomplete is often quoted, but we did carefully state that “most” are deficient in one or more essential amino acids and emphasized that there is an optimum ratio of essential amino acids that determines protein quality. The recommendation for mixing complementary vegetable protein sources to maximize the diet is an important principal on which vegetarian diets are based. Although an indiscriminate mixture of plant proteins could meet protein amino acid requirements, it must be remembered that the amino acid content in most plant proteins is more limited in amount per serving than that from animal sources. Thus, it is difficult to maintain essential amino acids at optimum quantity and distribution. We certainly agree with Dr McDougall that a vegetarian diet based on the AHA guidelines of 5 to 6 servings of whole grains and 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit would, in fact, supply all of the amino acids necessary for health.

Barbara V. Howard, PhD
MedStar Research Institute
108 Irving St NW
Washington, DC 20010
Barbara.v.howard@medstar.net

Dr. McDougall Replies

Dear Sirs:

Last week the American Heart Association Journal Circulation published a letter to the editor by John McDougall, MD that corrected one of the most common, yet damaging, myths about a healthy vegetarian diet - the myth that plants do not contain adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. You will find this letter in Volume 105, Number 25; June 25, 2002 on page 197 of the journal Circulation.

This letter was written in response to an article published in Circulation, October 9, 2001, by the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Misinformation printed in this influential journal has the ultimate effect of condemning people to unhealthy diets based around meat and other animal products, in order to get "adequate protein and amino acids."

Rather than admit their error, the response to Dr. McDougall's letter from one of the key authors, Barbara Howard, PhD, was a thinly veiled attempt to save face. In her short paragraph she contradicts herself by declaring Dr. McDougall both right and wrong, and fails to sight one scientific article to support her viewpoint that plant foods are inadequate nutrition and fall short of meeting human needs for protein and essential amino acids.

Even though "mixing vegetable protein sources to maximize the diet is an important principal on which vegetarian diets are based," this belief is incorrect and can easily be corrected by a careful look at the founding scientific research on human protein needs cited by Dr. McDougall.

Please give this important issue your attention, because it could make a real difference in people's lives.

 
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